COLUMBUS — Mention animal behavior or welfare to many in the agriculture sector and one name comes to mind: Dr. Temple Grandin.
Grandin spoke at the second annual Animal Welfare Symposium Nov. 30 at The Ohio State University.
Veterinarians, producers, technicians, officials and others involved in agriculture gathered for the event.
Grandin explained best management practices for humanely handling farm animals and handling ill and compromised animals.
One of the first topics Grandin covered was how important it is to see things from an animal’s perspective. This means get in chutes and other handling equipment and look out to see if there are things that could scare the animals.
“Calm animals are easier to handle than excited, fearful animals,” Grandin said.
Examples given include tying up loose chain ends that could scare animals or putting mats down on flooring so animals don’t slide, which makes them panic.
Another suggestion Grandin had was to search for shadows from an animal’s point of view. She said that sometimes when an animal views a shadow, it impedes movement. She said sunny days are often worse.
Grandin also told the group that sometimes only simple renovations are needed in order to simplify animal handling. She said sometimes cattle refuse to enter a dark building and suggested skylights or some other type of lighting in the area.
Grandin said she has even used a light tied up with duct tape. A simple solution, she said, but it was cheap, efficient and allowed easier handling of the cattle.
Another idea Grandin shared was using solid fences, explaining they keep animals calmer.
“Solid fences are especially important for animals with a large flight zone,” Grandin said.
Curved fences were also recommended by Grandin. She said they work better than straight ones because animals will turn back in the same direction they came from. When planning layout facilities, she said, remember cattle will want to revert to where they came from so it is important to keep that in mind and allow curves in it.
Grandin suggests using flags to turn animals and said sometimes it is necessary to block vision on one side of an animal so that their flight zone is reduced. They remain calmer using the method, she said.
Another suggestion is to avoid sudden, jerky motions when handling animals and always keep an eye on an animal’s behavior, such as watching the ears on horses.
In addition, use optimal pressure when handling animals, said Grandin. Make sure pressure is not too tight or too loose.
Grandin also told the crowd that animal handlers have to remember that animals often see things differently. For example, a cow may be used to being handled by a man on a horse so if a handler tries to maneuver it from the ground without the horse it may put stress on the animal.
Grandin also emphasized producers need to have a way to measure what they manage. Most producers want to maintain high standards, she said, but that requires a way to continuously measure what they are doing. Grandin also added that quality can be maintained but regular audits are required. However, this once again means needing a way to measure quality.
“We need to have standards that are realistic,” Grandin explained.
Some practices Grandin said should be stopped include sow gestation stalls, docking dairy cow tails and any type of physical abuse.
She said the idea of gestation crates is defensible for the short term but a new way must be developed.
When questioned about why she was against crates, Grandin said the idea can’t be sold to the public.
“Do you want to go to New York to Barnes and Nobles and defend them?” Grandin said.
Grandin said it’s important to get the message out to improve the public’s perception of animal agriculture.
“If agriculture doesn’t reach across the divide, its going to be in trouble,” Grandin said.
Grandin told the crowd that the best way to improve the image of agriculture is to get the gestation crates out, improve handling methods and then put cameras in barns. She said the best way is to show the public what a farmer does and this can be done easily using the Internet.
“We need to change our practices and then open the barn door. There are no security threats from the Internet,” Grandin said.
Grandin said showing the public feeding livestock and delivering calves or other young livestock would give the public a real image of what happens on a farm.
“People have a hunger for that stuff,” Grandin said as she suggested someone should create a reality television show about it.